(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has recently made it clear that he does not intend to run for another term, PA officials here said Thursday.
Abbas, who was elected in January 2005 in the first presidential election in the PA following the death of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, prefers to retire and devote more time to his family, the officials told The Jerusalem Post.
They also pointed out that the 73-year-old Abbas, who has devoted more than half of his life to "serving the Palestinian cause," believes that he and other old timers in the PLO should step aside and pave the way for younger leaders to emerge.
Abbas, according to some of his aides, is planning to call early elections within the next six months.
"I doubt if the president will run for another term," said one aide. "He has hinted more than once that he is tired and wants to relax."
Abbas's status within his own Fatah faction has been dealt a severe blow following Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last June.
Many Fatah leaders and activists have openly blamed him for the Hamas "coup," saying it was Abbas's conciliatory approach toward Hamas increased the Islamist movement's appetite.
Aware of the challenges to his leadership, Abbas traveled to Jordan 10 days ago, where he met with an old colleague of his, Ahmed Ghnaim, and tried to persuade him to move from Tunisia to Ramallah.
Ghnaim, who is better known by his nom de guerre Abu Maher, is one of the few veteran PLO leaders who refused to move to the Palestinian territories after the signing of the Oslo Accords. At the meeting, Abbas reportedly told the 70-year-old Ghnaim that he sees him as his natural successor as chairman of the PA.
But Ghnaim, who remains staunchly opposed to the Oslo Accords, is said to have turned down the offer.
Like Abbas, Ghnaim belongs to the old guard in Fatah - a group that has long been accused of denying younger representatives a say in decision-making. His refusal may be a result of concern that he would be the victim of the long-term power struggle in Fatah between the old guard and the new.
Among many young-guard Fatah cadres in the West Bank, there is a lot of talk these days about a behind-the-scenes battle to succeed Abbas.
Reports that Abbas is not planning to contest the next vote have escalated the battle. Some Fatah operatives and PA officials in Ramallah are already behaving as if the election campaign had started.
The return of top Fatah activist Muhammed Dahlan to Ramallah this week after six weeks of medical treatment in Germany triggered a wave of rumors as to his future plans. Dahlan's aides said he was planning to resume his activities as member of Fatah's two key decision-making bodies: the central council and the revolutionary council.
They also said that Dahlan did not rule out the possibility of presenting his candidacy in the next presidential elections.
But Dahlan is likely to face many difficulties, especially from those Fatah leaders who hold him responsible for the defeat of the Fatah-controlled security forces in the Gaza Strip last June.
A number of Fatah officials have publicly accused Dahlan of destroying the faction by trying to bring down the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip with the help of the US and Israel.
They argue that Dahlan's efforts not only backfired, but caused grave damage to Fatah's standing among the Palestinian public.
"Some Fatah leaders here are nervous because of Dahlan's comeback," said a Dahlan supporter. "They're afraid that he will challenge them in the next elections."
One of Dahlan's main rivals is Jibril Rajoub, a former PA security official who is also said to have his eyes set on the job of PA chairman.
Like Dahlan, Rajoub represents the young guard in Fatah and commands the respect of many Fatah cadres in the West Bank, especially members of the faction's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
And unlike Dahlan, Rajoub has been behaving more like a statesman in recent weeks, particularly with regards to the Hamas-Fatah conflict.
Unconfirmed reports have it that Rajoub has been holding secret talks with Hamas leaders over ways of resolving the crisis. Rajoub is also said to be one of the few Fatah leaders who are still on good terms with Hamas.
Yet both Dahlan and Rajoub face a common political rival - jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is also a representative of the young guard in Fatah. Barghouti's supporters said Thursday that he was seriously considering the possibility of running in the next election. In the last election, Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for involvement in the murders of four Israelis and a Greek monk, initially decided to challenge Abbas, but was later persuaded to drop his candidacy. In return, he was placed as No. 1 on the Fatah list.
A report in a Gulf-based newspaper claimed this week that the Americans were grooming PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad as Abbas's successor. Although the report has been denied by PA leaders here, some did not rule out the possibility that Fayad would also join the race. The only problem facing Fayad would be the fact that he does not belong to Fatah and does not enjoy the support of grassroots activists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Two other personalities who are also likely to contest the vote are Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Farouk Kaddoumi, the estranged Fatah leader who has long regarded himself as the most suitable person to lead the Palestinians.